Gene Logsdon Blog – The Contrary Farmer

Gene Logsdon: Pseudo Cisterns To The Rescue

r
From GENE LOGSDON

When I read about the resurgence of rain barrels going on these days, I think of them as part of the urban scene for some reason, not something popular out here where the corn grows tall. So I was more than a little surprised when our local Soil and Water Conservation District began selling them. Fifty bucks.  Here in my neighborhood, more people have farm ponds and cisterns than rain barrels, and those of us who do catch roof water in small amounts have managed to equip ourselves with barrels without, God forbid, spending money for one. If you can’t beg a free barrel, you just ain’t real country yet.

Actually, I would buy a rain barrel if I had to. We’ve always kept one or two  around the place, even back when we lived in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I’ve  used them mainly so that I don’t have to carry water to the chickens. A barrel is certainly cheaper than a pipe line, well, cistern or pond. What I finally did in the suburbs so as to have water handy throughout winter, was to partially bury a galvanized steel stock tank of about 30 gallons behind the chicken coop and rabbit pens, a sort of cheap, tiny cistern with boards over it for a cover, and ran a length of roof guttering from the coop roof to the tank.

Gene Logsdon: Love and Hate In the Chicken Coop

c
From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

We are in the process of moving our pullets in with the old hens. No big deal in this case since I am talking four pullets and three hens. The coop is about ten by twenty feet in size, plenty of room for seven chickens. The pullets since birth have lived on one side of a chicken wire fence that divides the coop, with the hens on the other side. All day, all night, since May, they have been able to watch each other closely, smell each other, listen to each other, even able to nuzzle or peck through the fence at each other if they wanted to. The chicks in fact preferred to huddle against the fence, as close to the hens as they could get when I came in the coop. The hens paid the chicks no mind whatsoever.

We all know what happens when you put a strange chicken in with your flock.  The resident birds will attack with a vengeance. I think it says in the bible that humans are the only creatures that will kill their own kind but chickens will too. And even after they have spent a couple months separated by only a flimsy wire fence, the dominant group still attacks the other mercilessly when they are put together. I usually introduce the two groups slowly and tentatively, by way of contact outdoors, where the pullets can escape their aggressors until the two groups get used to each other. In that situation, it always amazes me how the pullets go back into the coop at night with the hens.

Gene Logsdon: Farmers Learned Long Ago How To Handle The Weather 

600

From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

I give Monopoly Farming credit for one thing: it knows what needs to be done to make agriculture as certain of profit as manufacturing can be. Control the weather. That at least would make it easier to sell stock in gigantic farm enterprises. And the kind of mentality that achieves success in manufacturing thinks it knows just how to do that. Turn Big Data loose on weather records so that crops can be planted precisely at the best time and place for profitable yields. All big business thinks it needs are minutely-detailed, computer-collated statistical records on every raindrop, every temperature degree, every whisper of wind, every vortex shift of every pole, every oscillation of every ocean ripple, every zig and zag of every jet stream. Then the farmer will know, unerringly, when and where to plant wheat in Russia, soybeans in Brazil, corn in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, etc. No more guesswork, no more risk. Data will rule. As all successful business people know,  it’s just a matter of having enough facts in your portfolio. The money will roll in. The world will be fed. Heaven will be now.

Gene Logsdon: The Democratization of Agriculture


esf

From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

During the years I worked as a farm journalist, I moaned and groaned over the attitude of agricultural communicators toward the public. We were supposed to write exclusively for farmers, which was understandable, but the definition of “farmer” was limited to those who were good customers of big advertisers. Sheep ranchers, for example, could no longer get a subscription to Farm Journal because they didn’t buy enough farm equipment, something even the Wall Street Journal found amusing enough to editorialize about. If the magazine wanted to charge adverstising rates on the basis of a million subscribers, it had to show that those readers were buyers too, not just people interested in farming. So, perhaps for the first and last time in journalistic history, the magazine deleted thousands of subscribers. The readers who remained became a kind of exclusive club. One suggestion, to charge the “non-buying” group of subscribers more, was not deemed feasible.

This policy could and did backfire on farmers. Farm news written by knowledgeable farm journalists rarely made the evening news, so consumers rarely heard the farmer’s side of the story and so might be inclined to accept the half-truths perpetrated by hostile consumer groups as full truths.

Gene Logsdon: Old (Farm) Wives’ Tales

f
From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

We are down to only three hens at the moment, thanks to foxes or coyotes exacting their yearly tribute, but we are still getting two eggs every day. One of the two recently was a small, yolkless egg. “Old wives” told me when I was a child that such an egg signals the end of a hen’s laying season until she molts and starts up again. But since that yolkless little egg, we have continued to  get two normal-size ones every day. One might argue, in defense of old wives’ tales, that the third hen started laying the minute she noticed that one of others had laid a small egg. But if something that outlandish could be true then, according to another old wives’ tale, that first egg she laid should have had a little dried blood smeared on the shell which was not the case.

There’s another mystery involved. I asked my sister, the one closest to me in age, if she had heard about this last egg-first egg morsel of folklore and she said no. How could she not have heard what I heard since we grew up together. Perhaps her memory is dimming quicker than mine, although I would not dare say that in her presence. So I ask all of you: have you heard this folklore? Did I just dream it up?

Gene Logsdon: Invasion of the Paranoids

h
From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

Have you been invaded yet? If not, brace yourself because you soon will be. There are so many enemies approaching from all directions that there is no escape. It is not proper for me to make fun of something that is not funny, but since I have been invaded too, maybe I can be forgiven. Currently, my favorite danger of the day is the Invasion of the Tumbleweeds. No, really. It did happen in Colorado and to the ranchers there it’s not a bit funny. I quote from an Associated Press story: “Mini-storms of tumbleweed have invaded the drouth-stricken prairie of southern Colorado, blocking rural roads and irrigation canals…”  I now sing one of my favorite songs with my fingers crossed: “Drifting along with the tum-ble-ling tum-ble-weeds… Cares of the past are behind, nowhere to go but I’ll find, just where the trail will wi-ind….”  Cares of the past are behind? No more. Today, the trail always winds back to more trouble.

Gene Logsdon: White Clover Might Be God In My Bible


c

From GENE LOGSON
The Contrary Farmer

Or at least one of the heavenly angels. White clover brings salvation to the earth by drawing nitrogen from the air into its roots to replenish soil fertility. It lasts nearly forever without any human help, volunteers everywhere, provides nutritious forage  for bird and beast, honey for insect and human, and if you find a lucky four-leaved plant instead of the usual three-leaved version, you just might win the lottery. The accompanying photo is not particularly sensational, surely not photographically, but it shows something very interesting to a farmer, if you know the story behind it. The corn is the open-pollinated stuff I plant every year to keep this particular strain of Reid’s Yellow Dent up to date. (I started out forty years ago to grow the biggest ear of corn in the world and still have hopes.) It is the strip of white clover between the two strips of corn that I want to focus on. I did not plant it. It just came up all on its lonesome. Not a bad stand for being totally natural and independent of the manipulations of human ingenuity.

Gene Logsdon: Have You Seen A Skinny Farmer Lately?

f2
From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

Last week when I was researching what a well-dressed farmer of the mid- twentieth century was wearing to work, I paged idly through my old Farm Quarterly magazines from the mid-1950s which, incidentally, I got from Bob Evans of fast food fame.  (He knew a really good farm magazine when he saw one. When he found out that I shared his views on this (and many other subjects) he gave me his collection of old issues.) With something of a shock, I noted that many of the farmers depicted candidly in the magazine were downright skinny. Not just the young ones, but the older ones too. At first I thought it was just a coincidence, but the more copies of the magazine I riffled through, the more starkly apparent was the evidence: farmers, generally speaking, were noticeably thinner three fourths of a century ago.

Gene Logsdon: Sunbathing On The Tractor 

f
From GENE LOGSDON

It seems to me that more than the usual number of young men are appearing in upscale fashion magazines stripped to the waist. Nudity can hardly prevail in the bodily attire business but I guess it works when said young men are standing next to  young women wearing the latest from Madison Avenue. But bare-chested men are not a new fashion trend. They  were quite common  on the farm even back  in my high testosterone years. The really avant-garde thing to do then was drive a tractor shirtless in the glaring sun all day. When fields were lined with brushy fencerows giving the tractor drivers some privacy from motorists passing on the roads, some females were known to do similarly. I once asked a professor at an agricultural college how he managed to get the female students to do all tedious weeding required in test plots. He shrugged. “We allow them to go bra-less.”

Oh how carefree and sexy it seemed to make us feel. The darker the tan, the better. Who needs  tanning salons. But as a result, various pre-cancer and cancerous skin blemishes are epidemic today and dermatology is a lucrative field of medicine.

Gene Logsdon: Hanging Out The Wash

clothesline
From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

Several readers recently mentioned that they dried their laundry on a clothesline outdoors which reminded me that I had more to say on that subject than I wrote here a few years ago. It seems to me that drying wash out in the sun is one of the easiest ways to save on energy. It also carries its own reward because of how fresh and sweet sundried sheets smell when you crawl between them. We also dry clothes sometimes next to our wood-burning stove in winter which not only saves on electricity but puts much needed moisture into the air.

But as some of you intimated, not everyone likes outdoor clotheslines. In the subdivision where our daughter lives, they are verboten, which mystifies me no end. Do clothes fluttering in the wind really look ugly to some people? I think a Monday morning backyard of flapping sheets looks lovely and I remember how as children, we used them as sort of impromptu tents to play under until Mom would stop us.

Gene Logsdon: Food Farming As Artistic Endeavor


f1
From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

Commercial print book publishers are viewing the future with gloom while paradoxically the number of new book titles published yearly grows by leaps and bounds— over two million last year if the statistics can be believed. I doubt anyone really knows the exact number as self-published books flood the marketplace. At the same time, agribusiness experts are raising red flags all over the Chicago Board of Trade about the possibility that industrial farming is heading into a troubling decade even while local food market agriculture goes booming right along.

I wonder if both books and food are being affected by the same social forces. What is happening with book authoring— and with other artistic endeavors— is easy enough to see. Electronics has made it relatively cheap to produce and reproduce books, songs and paintings. Literally millions of people are willing to produce and promulgate their own art even if it doesn’t earn them a cent. All it takes to publish a book now is around three thousand dollars and the writer’s time. The payoff or profit comes not in monetary sales but in personal satisfaction. And as more and more people now have the education and revelation to realize that they have artistic talent, an amazing amount of good art is being created almost everywhere.

Gene Logsdon: Bird Manners

nh
From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

Watching birds at the feeder outside the kitchen window is still our favorite pastime and continues to yield more information as the years go by. This spring we watched a drama unfold that I would not have believed if I had only read it somewhere. Our kitchen window faces out on a patch of woodland, and we can see, especially with binoculars, a number of nesting sites in the trees beyond the bird feeder.  One tree trunk cavity, about 20 feet high in an oak tree, has always been home to a pair of nuthatches. Last winter, two red squirrels took over the apartment and I was sure that would be the end of the nuthatches at that location. Even up into spring, we could watch them carrying what looked like nuts or acorns into their hole while I wrathfully muttered obscenities in their general direction.

The drama that then unfolded started in a tree close by. Red bellied woodpeckers took over a hole in that tree and ferociously guarded it when fox squirrels (of which we have a small army) approached. I always thought the squirrels won these encounters but not so. At the same time, a pair of nuthatches began to hop around the hole that the red squirrels had taken over. A week later, they were entering the hole and emerging with tufts of leaves and other debris in their beaks, which they would stick into the bark of the tree trunk above and below the hole. I have no idea what they were doing, but soon the squirrels were gone and the nuthatches back in business.

Pink Pistol Packin’ Mommas…


p2
From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

My twenty-two caliber rifle is almost as important a tool on our garden farm as my hoe. I need it to dispatch overpopulating wildlife that would otherwise make our way of life almost impossible. You don’t need to agree with me on that to get a laugh out of the irony that is presently facing us. We went to town yesterday for a box of rifle shells and there was nary a one to be bought. All the stores that normally sell them were sold out. Even Walmart. The regular gun store had plenty of other shells but not .22s.

Had the anti-gun lobby or some organization for the protection of animals decided they could win their point if they attempted to keep .22 caliber shells out of gun owner hands? Surely not. Twenty two caliber rifles are only a little more effective than paint guns. As a social statement, buying up armor-piercing shells would make the point better.

Gene Logsdon: Will Society Spurn Animal Factories?


s

From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

For years I have written that large, confined animal factories would fade away eventually. Every time I repeated that statement, the number and size of animal factories went up again, take that, you dumb old-timer, Gene.  So I was more than a little surprised when an Internet billionaire, very much not an old-timer, made the same prediction in the Sunday New York Times on May 4. In an editorial titled “A Vision of the Future,” the question was poised: “What is the next issue to undergo a sea change in social acceptance?” Ev Williams, co-founder of Twitter, replied: “We will reject factory animal farming.”

Halleluia. From what very little I know about Mr. Williams, he and I are about as far apart socially as two people can be. By comparison, I am poverty-stricken. Nor have I ever contributed a twit or tweet to Twitter.

Gene Logsdon: Working Too Hard At Farming To Succeed


b

From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

Last week I ruminated about how so many people hate hard physical labor and how society invariably rewards sitting down work with better wages than standing up work. Then the sitting down people sweat themselves into pain and misery in sports and “leisure” activities. Your responses were wonderful. I have the same experience that you do, Beth— going to town is more exhausting than a day of hard work on the farm.

But what are we to think of the new farmers today who despite having very good jobs sitting down, insist on working themselves half to death in the fields during their free time. What gives here?

There’s a new book out by a friend of mine, Richard Gilbert, called Shepherd that eloquently explains what gives here. In Richard’s case it was a vertebra in his upper back among other things. Richard and I go back quite a few years now and I owe him because, working at Indiana University Press and then at Ohio University Press, he vigorously supported the publication of several of my books. But I would praise his book

Gene Logsdon: Sitting Your Way To Success 


h

From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

My mind lurches around uncomfortably whenever I consider the subject of farm work. I worry that, as a writer, I gloss over the reality of it and overly glorify the ideal of it. I personally prefer a life that means many hot summer days bucking hay bales into the barn over one that requires many hot summer days commuting into a Philadelphia magazine office in a train that is not air-conditioned and then trying to figure out what to write that will not upset the boss. I have done my share of both. Office work stresses me mentally and physically. Farm work only stresses me physically and getting tired that way is sort of soothing if you don’t overdo it.

But my view of the matter is obviously not the case for the majority of people. Most humans dread hard physical labor. History shows that they will flee farm work even for life in a city ghetto and this trend continues all over the world, especially evident right now in China.

“Labor-saving” technology is our salvation, according to our culture, when in reality it only means we can do more in the same amount of time with the side effect of creating millions of unemployed people.

Gene Logsdon: Easter Lambs


1
From GENE LOGSDON

The black lamb in the photo is a single. The white lamb is one from a quintuplet birth, a rare event in a shepherd’s life. The guy is Brad, my brother-in-law, the shepherd involved. Note the much larger size of the single lamb which underscores the opinion of many shepherds that singles are really preferable, all things considered, than multiple births, especially in this case since two of the quints died after their mother laid on them. Many shepherds, including myself, prefer singles even to triplets and don’t mind singles rather than twins because invariably a single lamb will grow faster without any problems. And, as shepherds rarely admit, if everyone got lots of triplets every year, the price would just go down.

2

Brad and my sister Berny are super-shepherds

Gene Logsdon: Hemp Is Coming Back As A Farm Crop…


h
From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

One bit of news lately has not received much fanfare but probably should. State by state, hemp farming is becoming legal. The latest state, I think, is Ohio, which is a surprise to those who think the Buckeye State leans heavily toward the conservative side which generally takes a dim view of anything that looks like approval of drugs. But one of the first states to legalize industrial hemp was Kentucky, certainly several shades redder than Ohio. Now some ten states have some form of permit for growing the crop. And the Federal Government has removed pyschoactively-inert hemp from the purview of the federal Controlled Substance Act, so university researchers can now grow the stuff experimentally, the first step in legalizing it everywhere. So what is going on here?

Common sense is winning out once more, that’s what. Farm hemp or more officially “industrial hemp,” is a type of cannabis and a relative to marijuana, but does not produce the drug THC in amounts that you can get high on. There’s tons of proof but I sort of know from observation. Many years ago, I watched a group of young men try their smoking best to get high— and failing— on the industrial hemp that was growing wild, as it does many places in the Midwest. A good new book on all aspects of industrial hemp is just out—Hemp Bound by Doug Fine from Chelsea Green Publishing.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,542 other followers